A federal grand jury indicted six foreign nationals on charges that they defrauded hundreds of customers out of more than $4 million in bogus Internet car sales, federal prosecutors said Thursday
The 24-count indictment returned Wednesday alleges a scheme in which vehicles were offered for sale on legitimate websites that deal in auto trading, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.
The six defendants _ from Germany, Russia, Romania and Latvia _ are accused of collecting payments from hundreds of would-be buyers nationwide, siphoning millions of dollars to Europe and never delivering a vehicle, the indictment said.
Authorities identified the alleged leaders of the scam as Corneliu Stefan Weikum, 37, a Romanian national, and Yulia Meshina-Heffron, 23, a native of Yekaterinberg, Russia. Both are in federal custody in Nevada on charges related to bulk cash smuggling.
Weikum monitored the fraudulent bank accounts to determine if funds had been deposited, the indictment said. The money was then withdrawn _ primarily in cash _ and delivered to Weikum and Mishina. The two then allegedly wired the money from the United States to other countries, mailed the funds in concealed packages to Berlin, or concealed the funds in personal carry-on luggage while traveling to Germany, according to the indictment.
At least 110 bank accounts were opened to fraudulently receive the funds, according to the indictment. From September 4, 2007 until October 5, 2010, victims deposited at least $4 million into the accounts.
"This case demonstrates our ability to track down even the most sophisticated fraud artist who attempted to hide behind false identities and the perceived anonymity of the Internet," said U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr.
The defendants face charges including conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud and money laundering.
If convicted, each could face sentences totaling hundreds of years in federal prison.